Steven Bernstein

Diaspora Blues

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Upon first listen, Diaspora Blues (a follow-up to 1999's Diaspora Soul) seems to be a very different kind of Steven Bernstein record. In place of the joyous, at times comical, brass pop that Bernstein normally feeds on (such as the John Barry scores of Sex Mob Does Bond) are somber, meditative Hebrew melodies. Likewise, Bernstein's punchy Sex Mob has (temporarily, anyway) been replaced by the Sam Rivers Trio. Gradually, though, things begin to fall into place. A quote in the liner notes from Abraham Idelson is the first hint: "The main basis of Semitic and Jewish music is the minor scale which at a very late date, came to be considered of a melancholy character by the Anglo-Saxon only." In other words, this is bread-and-butter Bernstein, albeit with a new twist: There is redemption -- or, at least, temporary salvation -- through music. Music is to be a happy, celebratory, social occasion. Here, it is dressed up in more adult clothing. But, as one hears Bernstein's slide trumpet pull Sam Rivers' saxophone off into free jazz territory during the traditional "Blessing" before dropping back into more contemplative waters, one gets a different sense of this music (much of which is based on the transcriptions of Cantor Moshe Koussevitsky). The improvisatory flourishes that frame the melodies do much to transmit this information. And, as with the Bond project as well as the earlier Solid Sender, Bernstein has composed a variety of numbers -- including "Commentary I," "Commentary II," and "Chant" -- that pursue both the spirit of the material from which he is drawing and the boundary-pushing downtown jazz that is his lifeblood.

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